Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mamma Mia! Indeed

I'm not a huge movie snob. I'll watch just about any kind of movie. (Even those "romantical" ones that I give my wife such a hard time about liking—some aren't too bad.) There are some movies that look like a stinker from a mile away. There are some real stinkers that I honestly don't hate, though the general consensus is that it is supposed to be a bad movie. (i.e. Ultraviolet, Battlefield Earth, Star Wars: Episodes I - III, Odd Numbered Star Trek Films) There are movies that I really wanted to see, that turned out to be awful. (i.e. The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Cat in the Hat) Then there are some honestly well done movies that everyone is supposed to like, that I hate. (i.e. Fargo, Million Dollar Baby)

The category that Mamma Mia! fell into was: There is no way in a Million years I would ever want to see that stinker of a movie for any reason (though secretly curious because I grew up in a house where the songs of ABBA flowed freely).

It was on sale at Christmas, and though we had not seen it, I got it and gave it to my wife. Having not seen it, we wisely chose to get it at Red Box first. 

Since I was only secretly curious about it I ended up only seeing part of the movie. We started watching it and then went to bed because it was late (see? already it was not good enough to pull us in and force completion upon us—which has been known to happen) and she finished it and took it back without me the next day. I was not heartbroken in the least, because there were problems in this movie from the beginning. 

First of all the time period. I don't know when this is supposed to be taking place. Lets look to the movie for clues. The Daughter, reading from Mom's journal indicates that she was conceived during the "Summer of Love" which was 1967, but let's be generous and give them until 70. The daughter is 20 at the most, making this 1987-90. The fashion sense of the film just doesn't fit, it's too modern. Now the Mom was supposedly young when she conceived this daughter of hers; Mom should be at most 40, but probably younger. Meryl Streep could Barely Pass for 40 when she was 40. To me Meryl Streep seemed old when she was young—and here she's trying to play a "40" year old woman tired from being a single Mom for the last 20 years. She turns 50 this year and looks 60 in this move.
She get's with her old "Band Mates" from back in the day. who both look older than her, and the three of them act ridiculous, which I know happens with women when they get together, regardless of age, and I buy it coming from her "band mates"—but from Meryl Streep, not at all—this just feels like bad casting to me. In fact, I can honestly say I liked every pat of the movie (that I saw) which did not have Meryl Streep in it. I have never had a movie ruined for me because of an actor/actress. I think this could have been a good movie with someone else cast in that part, but as is, it's not enjoyable—it's down right uncomfortable.

The stinker of a movie went back to the store, and was enthusiastically replaced with three cheap bin movies:

An Ideal Husband—Brilliant, Funny, Theatrical....Romantical, Comedy.

Bride & Prejudice—Bollywood in Spirit, Funny, (especially if you are familiar with Pride & Prejudice, which I am, thanks to my wife)...Romantical, Comedy.

and Chocolat, to replace the one that was borrowed and never came back—Funny, Intelligent...Romantical, Comedic, Dramatic.

See, I'm no film snob, but Mamma Mia!?....Mamma Mia Indeed!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Like Power Grid—But I'm Still Frustrated

Justin brought over Power Grid and we've played it a couple times.

I have a method for learning games. It goes a lot like this:

1) Ignore all the rules that are explained before starting to play (some people insist on explaining all the rules first—I have been guilty of this as well) but I find that my brain turns off until this process is done. I have even explained to people that we should just skip this step because every word they say is literally a foreign language because I haven't been eased into the milieu of the game.

2) Pick up the rules as I go. By the end of the game I generally have gotten the gist. At this point I generally know how to play, but I do not know how the game ends or the winning conditions.

3) Discuss the winning conditions.

4) Play again all the while discussing the minutae of the Rules, Strategy, and Hopefully grasping the Winning conditions.

We've played Power Grid Twice now, so I should know how to play (the strategy part doesn't always kick in for me, and even if it does, Justin is so good at analyzing raw data on the fly, that his strategy is usually better than mine) but my understanding of the winning condition is a little sketchy.

We played again, and I was playing just to be playing, I wasn't trying to win per se, I was just trying to grasp better the strategy and completely overlooked that I was somehow winning. In My head I'm not supposed to win, Justin is, He had more cities than I the entire game. The game ends when someone gets 17 cities (in a 3 player game—which is all we've played). But the winner is apparently whoever can power the most cities, and if that is a tie then it all comes down to money.

Early on in the game, I payed extra to get better power stations. 
I thought that this was foolish because it was preventing me from being able to afford to buy more cities—four times I was short by a mere dollar. Also at the beginning of the game you decide what section of the map is "yours," and I had chosen the North West—this threw a wrench into the machine in two ways. The West side of the Map is more expensive, because the cities are further apart, so the power conduits are longer. This was eating my funds faster than my opponents who were in the South East and Mid West. It also served to create a bottle neck when moving into opposing territory, which served to prevent me from buying cities when we got to stage two and three.

However—by sheer luck of the Shuffle—larger power stations were not being made available later in the game. We stopped buying (no sense buying a plant that can supply 2 cities, when you already have one that supplies 4 [you can have 3 stations total]) which caused the availability of new plants to slow to a crawl. There are other ways for the available plants to cycle, but it is not nearly as efficient as replacing the empty space created by someone buying from the pool with a new one from the draw pile.

So here's where the game got frustrating. My inability to buy more cities had left me further in the dust in the quest to 17 cities. The power station drought had led to a run on resources; Coal and Oil were getting as Expensive as Uranium. But I was able to power more cities than anyone, so they were not buying more cities, avoiding the end of the game. All I had to do to win, was buy enough cities to end the game, but because I didn't realize this on my own someone was upset that I was winning with someone else's strategy, so I chose not to win the game, and to come up with my own plan. But two turns later I won by being forced into winning by another player under the same winning conditions—I should mention that it was about 1:00 am and I think we had all hit the wall of sleep deprivation toleration. What frustrated me was not understanding the winning conditions.

Within 3 moves it changed from: (a) if J buys his 17th city E Wins because she has the most money; to (b) if I buy Coal it will prevent J and E from powering enough cities to win but I can't buy enough cities to win because of a bottleneck but J will buy that last city just to end the game; to (c) E can power enough cities to win now theoretically but has to wait for the next turn for stage 3 to kick in so J's going to buy enough cities to end the game this turn because J's tired. —The details may be a little off there, but the sentiment is correct.

I won the game, but it was completely unsatisfactory because it had nothing to do with my own scheming, and a lot to do with my not seeing the endgame as it approached.

I think I understand the winning conditions enough now, that if I play one more time, I'll like this game sans frustration.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Agricola—The Game You Love, or Maybe You Don't, But You Just Keep Playing It Again and Again. . .

If you haven't played Agricola, I'll give you a quick review. 

It's a game about managing your Resources and your Family on a farm. The Board is somewhat modular and there are multiple decks you choose from to play with (which gives it a lot of variety—and probably expansion potential). The decks are designed so that the play experience never quite goes the same way twice. After playing your first game, you think to yourself:

"Well, I didn't do great, but I didn't do too bad, I learned some things and next time I play, I'll have to pay more attention to X"

Then you play again, and the game is completely different, the strategies you thought you had worked out aren't working. Item X doesn't even come up. Item Y seems like it could have won the game for you, if you had thought about it earlier in the game. The Game finishes, and you think:

"Well, I didn't do great, but I didn't do too bad, I learned some things and next time I play, I'll have to pay more attention to X or Y"

Then you play again, and X and Y literally don't even come into play. Z ends up being what could have helped anyone playing completely crush the competition and declare themselves the clear winner, but no one even thinks about it until far too late in the game. So you finish, and think to yourself.

"Well, I didn't do great, but I didn't do too bad, I learned some things and next time I play, I'll have to pay more attention to X or Y or Z . . . 

So you play again and again, and no matter how many times you play this game, there's no way to figure it out, or to beat the system. We keep playing it trying to beat the game itself, not necessarily each other. It's fun, but a little frustrating, and then you say—"Let's play again."—it's weird.

We got this game for Christmas from a friend. I put it in my trunk as we were going to be at family gatherings and there was some potential that we may have a chance to play at said gatherings. We never did end up playing it with family (Guitar Hero was too much of a draw) and as a result of it being in the trunk, the box got Gouged pretty severely—which is weird, no other game has gotten harmed in the trunk before, and Emily made sure to move it to the back of the trunk when she was loading things.

It got pierced by one of the tension bars that spring the trunk open, which is nearer the front of the trunk. Thankfully the game components are completely intact.and undamaged.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small.

So I got Horton Hears a Who for Christmas. The New One. (Some may be unaware that there is an older one, after the success of the Dr. Seuss and Chuck Jones team-up for the Television Classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, they went on to create a handful of other animated Seuss Tales.) I actually have the old one come to think of it—I'll have to give it a watch.

It's funny how when you are exposed to a certain slice of something, there is a tendancy for your mind to think of that as the whole. For instance, I had never heard of Horton Hears a Who when I was younger. To me Horton was only in Horton Hatches the Egg. I became aware of Horton Hears a Who when my Aunt showed it to me at her home on VHS. I think I was Jr. High age (it appears that is was not released on VHS until 1992, so unless she had it recorded from T.V. that puts us squarely in the Jr. High/High School range). A similar thing happened in my mind with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I really hate to admit how old I was when I discovered that How the Grinch Stole Christmas was a book before it was a T.V. Special.

Anyway, after The Disaster that was The Cat in the Hat (Movie) I was really apprehensive as to whether this movie would actually be any good. I didn't have much to base that on. First there was the fact that they were pushing the Jim Carrey as Horton so heavily. That's usually a bad sign, that should be a secondary reason for seeing a film. Story is first. Second, they were showing a scene in the trailers that depicted a young who girl wanting a cell phone; and as much as I like the Jim Carrey version of The Grinch, there are certain "Modernizations" in it that still rub me the wrong way every time I watch it. Third, one of the Radio Personalities I listen to was complaining about "Modernizations" that destroy the Timelessness of Seuss' Worlds (He was referring to the cell phone joke as well, but in reflection I don't think he had seen it either).

Now that I've seen it I can say that Pushing Jim Carrey heavily was a great disservice to Steve Carrell, whose voice, acting, and comedic talent lent greatly to this adaptation (I'm sure that had everything to do with the marketing department and contracts).
The Cell Phone Joke was the only modernization in this version, and it did not detract from the story at all; and Yes, It was a good joke.
The Radio Personality is even more of an old codger than I am, so I don't take everything he says to heart, and this is just another one of those instances.

This movie had an underlying message, and unlike most, I really liked it.

The Kangaroo plays the stereotypical head of the (PTA/HOA/Neighborhood Watch/Etc). I think we've all met someone like this. She is constantly trying to take Horton's freedoms from him—"FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHILDREN"—I HATE how many laws get passed because they are for the good of the children (at the expense of freedoms). I tell you, "for the good of the children" is the stinkin' Golden Calf of our local politics. Tax increases especially—that "will go to the schooling of our children," most of which never actually gets into the classrooms, or teacher's salaries. Seriously, this seems to happen every time we vote.

Then there's this whole Consumer Product Safety Act 2008 "Improvement" mandating that retailers test for lead, in products that have NEVER been a problem, instead of punishing China, where we have a track record of problems. Oh, and if you didn't know, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is made up of two people...TWO UNELECTED people given supreme power over what can and cannot be sold in America..."for the good of the children."

This is threatening to put small businesses out of business—which in this state of the economy seems like just a stellar idea, since, you know—unemployment levels aren't high enough. Libraries are worried that they might need to post no children allowed signs—remember this is for the good of the children and libraries are just horrible horrible places for children, because, you know—children have been getting lead poisoning from licking library books for years now. It's about time someone did something. Some people can only afford to buy their kids clothes at thrift stores and until recently, this was threatening to make thrift stores a thing of the past. (Yes, more jobs gone the way of the Dodo) They're not completely off the hook though.

Something tells me that this just wasn't really thought through well before being signed. If this law, "was aimed at Chinese manufacturers who have produced toys tainted with lead." (Congressman Peter DeFazio [D-Oregon]), who co-sponsored the bill) Maybe they should have put something in the law that stipulated that this applies to imported goods.

This law is seriously poised to affect children, because it takes a lot of rights away from adults, it makes manufacturing too expensive (as if the manufacturing industry in America wasn't in enough trouble as is), adults have to support children. children become adults. So, you know, it takes rights away from children too.

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small after all.